9 Design Tips for Planning the Perfect Outdoor Kitchen

Outdoor kitchen with island surrounded by wooden bar chairs

The Spruce / Christopher Lee Foto

When it comes to cooking, most meals you'd typically make inside can also be cooked in an outdoor kitchen—and your favorite foods might even taste better when prepared on outdoor appliances. With delicious aromas and flavors, barbecuing can add a whole new element to your usual meals.

Outdoor cooking isn't limited to the simple charcoal and propane grills that many are accustomed to. Modern kitchens designed for the patio can feature high-tech appliances and sophisticated components to create an easy-to-use, luxurious space for outdoor lifestyles.

Before launching your project, consider the following design tips and considerations for planning an outdoor kitchen that's best suited for your needs.

Research Outdoor Kitchen Types

Determining the best type of outdoor cooking center for your home will depend on your budget, lifestyle, and space. At its most basic, an outdoor kitchen can include a grill and components like an outdoor bar to serve as a counter. Your setup can be as extravagant as you'd like: Like other home projects, you can get creative when choosing what to include.

First, decide if you want a fully functional kitchen or a simple setup. From there, you can determine what is essential and what's an amenity, and if your budget and taste have room for the extras. Keep in mind that it's outside—nature doesn't need to be overly complicated.

beautiful outdoor kitchen
Jennifer Cheung / Getty Images

Assess the Available Space

If you live on a sprawling lot with lots of acreage, then your challenge might be making sure you don't have to walk too far from the house to fire up the grill. Most properties are smaller, presenting fewer choices for the location of a grill and an outdoor kitchen area. Thankfully, even small outdoor kitchens can provide plenty of options in terms of appliances, plumbing, and counter space.

Measure your entire space to determine which appliances should be prioritized (and if you have room for every must-have on your list). Once you've determined the area you have to work with, you can begin choosing specific items to include.

Choose Between Permanent and Portable Options

If you rent or plan to move in the next few years, it's best to equip your outdoor kitchen with appliances and features that can move with you. For example, a standalone grill can be paired with portable carts to use as DIY counters or a barbecue island that rolls.

If you don't see yourself moving (or you simply love DIY projects), then an outdoor kitchen might be a satisfying project for you to design and build. Determine a convenient and safe location, then begin thinking about materials that coordinate with your home's exterior and are locally available. In some cases, it's helpful to hire a contractor who can help you meet the specifications in any blueprints you find to begin.

outdoor kitchen on deck
Eirasophie / Getty Images

Set a Budget

Make a budget and work within it. Essentials such as materials, appliances, and labor can easily get out of hand, so aim high in case the project costs more than anticipated. Additional costs include enlisting the services of a designer, obtaining permits, purchasing tools, and hiring professional help for add-ons such as electrical and plumbing. Always ask for quotes from local pros before beginning work—this essential step will help you understand the full range of expected costs before determining your budget.

Understand Your Preferred Cooking Styles

Determine your favorite style and method of outdoor cooking: Do you love grilled fish or a hamburger cooked over a charcoal barbecue? What about pizza cooked in an outdoor brick oven? Is a tandoor or a smoker preferable?

An outdoor kitchen can include anything from a gas, propane, electric, or charcoal grill to various ovens, stoves, and griddles. It's important to decide whether you'll be preparing food outside or if you're content with prepping meals indoors before bringing them out to cook. If all preparations will take place in your outdoor kitchen, you'll likely need to save room in the budget (and your space) for a counter and a sink.

While designing, think about the maximum number of people you'll be cooking for. Plan several of your favorite outdoor meals and ensure that the outdoor kitchen you have in mind can handle the prep and cooking while accommodating guests. From there, make adjustments to include larger appliances or seating areas as necessary.

Consider Climate and Environment

If you live in the western United States, Florida, or another region with a warm climate, you may spend more time in your outdoor kitchen than the one inside your home. If this is the case, a larger outdoor setup may be justified.

For other areas that experience more extremes in weather, the location within your yard is important. The region you live in will vary in microclimates compared to other parts of the country. Avoid spots that are too windy, hot, or cold. Unless you live in an area with very sparse rainfall, appliance covers or a partial patio roof will likely be necessary as well.

Commit to Proper Maintenance

An outdoor kitchen is exposed to the elements. Even if you don't use it often, the appliances and surfaces will need to be covered and maintained to withstand changing weather. In coastal regions, your appliances will also need to be cleaned regularly to remove buildups of salt from the ocean air that can deteriorate many materials quickly.

Think about the time and effort it will require to keep up a kitchen that you install. Will you have help, or will you be the lone chef and cleaner? Remember that sometimes, simple is better. Plan a kitchen with maintenance needs that are reasonable for your schedule.

cleaning grates of grill
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Select Outdoor Kitchen Materials

If the kitchen will be a permanent installation, look to building materials used on the exterior of your home such as brick, concrete, or stucco, and any details that should be made of metal or tile. Along with looking attractive, these materials are durable when used on outdoor structures like kitchens.

Besides the appearance, consider your budget, the material's availability, and the size and scope of your project. Labor costs and special installations will influence the overall price of each option.

brick outdoor kitchen
Chuck Schmidt / Getty Images

Adjust for Household Needs

While it's exciting to begin a new project, it's also easy to set unrealistic expectations when planning an outdoor kitchen. Once you've decided on a general blueprint, consider the basic elements to ensure it's in line with your needs.

How many household members will be cooking outdoors, and what type of cooking do they prefer? How often will you and others use the outdoor kitchen? Be realistic: You can always start modestly, then add appliances and extras over time. By opting for the most necessary items first, you'll get to enjoy your outdoor kitchen design from the beginning—and it can keep getting better as you determine what's next.